1915: Family fashionista John H. Stoutner

Sepia Saturday 388: Fifth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

In the last post, I introduced my Stoutner ancestors from Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. Among them was family fashionista John H. Stoutner — a ladies garment professional who had the most potential to influence the clothing style of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence.

Stoutner & Van Arnam’s Smart Shop in Gloversville, N.Y. (circa 1915). Growing up I was told that my grandmother’s Uncle John ran a “millinery shop.” Newspaper ads reveal this was a full-service women’s fashion store. Scan by Molly Charboneau

I knew little about my grandmother’s Uncle John growing up — just that he owned a “millinery shop,” according to my mother.

Born in 1870, Uncle John embarked on his career at a time when women still wore extravagant hats, so this explanation made sense.

Later I inherited a spectacular photo of his Gloversville shop (above) and sure enough, there was the profusion of ladies hats — some behind cases and others decoratively placed on the selling floor.

Stoutner & Van Arnam’s Smart Shop

Newspaper ad for The Smart Shop (1915). This ad from the March 22, 1915 issue of the Gloversville-Johnstown Morning Herald was one of many placed by Uncle John and his partner Crosby to advertise their women’s fashion store. Source: Old Fulton New York Post Cards

From the Stoutner family photo, I knew that Uncle John had a business partner, Crosby Van Arnam. I wondered whether newspaper research might tell me more — and I was pleased to discover several advertisements for their shop.

The one posted here, from the March 22, 1915 issue of the Gloversville-Johnstown Morning Herald, advertises the millinery portion of their store.

However, other Smart Shop ads on the same page featured clothing and outerwear, indicating they ran a full-service operation.

Uncle John and Crosby placed the ads to coincide with Gloversville’s Spring Style Show, giving the address of their shop as 13 West Fulton St. A Google search for a street view of this address reveals a row of charming row of storefronts right around the corner from Main Street.

Looking good a wholesale prices

The Stoutner siblings (circa 1916). From left, Andrew J., 7, Margaret C., 2 1/2,  and Elizabeth C. Stoutner, 11. My grandmother Liz, at right, was growing into a fashionable young lady. Did her Uncle John influence her style? Scan by Molly Charboneau

In the days before big-box stores, having an uncle in the fashion business meant my grandmother Liz and her siblings could be looking good at wholesale prices — and look good they did!

Here are the Stoutner siblings in a circa 1916 outdoor photo, each fashionably dressed. My grandmother Liz, at right, is nearly 11 years old and growing into a young lady.

Her outfit is hard to make out, but it appears to be a sailor-necked blouse with a tie and a matching skirt. White stockings and stylish ankle-strap shoes complete her look — and for the first time she is wearing what would become her signature collar-style necklace.

Next to her, Aunt Margaret is precious at age 2 1/2 with her long hair, little white dress, striped socks and black patent leather shoes. Rounding out the group. Uncle Andy, 7, sports an outfit that echoes my grandmother’s — with the variation of a low-slung belt and black stockings and shoes.

Did Uncle John play a part in dressing the family? Hard to know for sure. But I suspect his garment industry expertise was looked to by his relatives — and may have influenced my grandmother Liz in a stylish direction.

Up next: A bit more on family fashionista Uncle John H. Stoutner. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of other Sepia Saturday participants here.

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6 thoughts on “1915: Family fashionista John H. Stoutner”

  1. Thanks everyone for your comments. I was surprised at the detail some of you noticed. I totally missed the radiator because I was busy looking at the potted palms atop the wall! I am also a fan of vintage hats and wonder if they are worn here in the U.S. at horse races and such. This post and your comments prompted me to do a bit more research on Uncle John and how he may have ended up operating this store, which I will write up for the next Sepia Saturday.

  2. Hats are so evocative of the age and Uncle John’s shop must have been like a jeweler’s to hat aficionados. I have always loved the old fashion advertisements.

  3. That first picture reminded me of a wonderful chapeau shoppe in North Berkeley, CA in the late ’50s and early ’60s. I used to love to go in there and look for hats. They had a huge selection and they weren’t all that expensive so a working girl could afford one or two once in a while. Of course that’s back when we wore hats. And gloves. And spectator pumps!

  4. Wow! A Palace! Even The Shop Looks Stylish .
    Strange how hats ( both Male & Female) are less worn these days…i always think they add a certain flair to a person’s appearance.

  5. Was Uncle John a milliner, ie. did he make the hats himself? The shop looks lovely. I’m not a hat wearer, but it’s racing season here in Melbourne at present and the department stores are full of hats and fascinators that are fun to look at, if not try on.

  6. That’s a terrific photo of the millinery shop! Most merchant and shop photographs I’ve seen are exterior street views with the proprietor and clerks standing outside the entrance. Interior photos are less common, probably because cameras were not so good with dim light. I especially like the tin ceiling, the ornate radiator and the delicate wicker chair. The mirrors likely improved the lighting and of course flattered the female customers. The modern Google street view shows the town still values the original charm and architectural heritage.

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